Is your child at risk for a stress fracture?

Sports Medicine, Overuse Injury, Injury Prevention

Girl sitting on the floor of a basketball court with a coach nearby

Yes, if your child plays hard and is very active. 

What are stress fractures?

Stress fractures are hairline cracks in the bone caused by forceful, repetitive movements. More than 50 percent of these micro-traumas occur in the feet, legs or hips.

Physical stress is important for your child’s muscle and skeletal growth. But when, young people practice long hours, train on hard surfaces, or rush their training program, they can overwork their muscles and connective tissues to the point of fatigue. Tired and stretched soft tissues cannot protect the bones from the repetitive impact, leading to stress fractures.

Sports medicine specialists often see stress fractures in young athletes who take part in skiing, dancing, gymnastics, basketball, tennis, soccer, volleyball, and football.

Thirty to 60 percent of student-athletes. who play competitive sports, will experience an overuse injury at some point in their athletic career. Young athletes are at a higher risk of stress fractures if they:

• Train too hard after time off
• Over-train
• Increase the duration or intensity of an activity too quickly
• Train on hills
• Run or train on hard or uneven surfaces
• Fail to use proper form
• Wear the wrong shoes for the activity
• Suffer from flat feet
• Suffer from anorexia

Coaches and parents can help students and young competitors prevent stress fractures by monitoring a young athlete's practice and performance, to ensure they:

• Use proper training techniques
• Avoid frequent repetitive drills
• Focus on the proper technique and movement mechanics
• Practice on surfaces that are in good repair
• Warm-up before exercise and stretch afterward
• Rest at least one day a week
• Play a variety of sports
• Use proper gear
• Wear clothing that releases body heat in warmer weather
• Dress in layers during colder weather
• Drink enough water to prevent dehydration

When young athletes, parents, and coaches work together, they reduce the risk of sports-related injuries.

How do I know if my child has a stress fracture?

If your child complains about aches and pains, like the pain of shin splints, you have a reason for concern.

When stress fractures form, they cause pain during activity. The discomfort usually stops when the activity stops. But, when it's left untreated, the pain increases in intensity and frequency, which can mean damage to the bone. 

You may also notice tenderness and swelling in the painful area. If the pain becomes severe even when your child is resting, seek orthopedic care.

Sometimes, stress fractures affect a child’s growth plates. Proper diagnosis using X-rays, MRIs or CT scans to pinpoint the location of the stress fracture is important.

How are stress fractures treated?

Your orthopedic specialist may prescribe rest, crutches, or physical therapy depending on the severity and location of the crack.

Occasionally, stress fractures form deep inside the bone and do not heal because of underlying health conditions, location of the fracture, or continued stress. In these cases, treatment may require surgery.

Even after treatment, there may be complications. Sometimes stress fractures don’t heal. In other cases, stress fractures make the bone vulnerable to re-injury and cause a lifetime of problems.

Recovery time depends on the location of the fracture, how serious it was, and the general health of your child.

How can my child avoid a stress fracture?

The best ways to help your child avoid stress fractures are to make sure he or she is healthy physically and mentally.

• Make sure your child eats healthy bone-building foods high in calcium and vitamin D.
• Help your child develop a healthy view of their favorite sport. Discourage early specialization.
• Encourage cross-training. Multi-sport athletes do not have as many stress fractures or overuse injuries.
• Invest in sport-specific footwear to lessen the strain on the feet, ankles, and legs.
• Make sure your child receives proper conditioning.
• Check to see that your child wears the right protective gear.
• Maintain routines that help your child get adequate rest between practices.

Talk to your child’s coach about the training schedule and make sure your child has the right type of equipment for their activity.

Many schools have a certified athletic trainer or a sports medicine specialist available to help your child achieve his or her goals while staying healthy, strong, and active for the entire season.

When should I seek medical attention for my child?

If your child experiences injury or has ongoing pain that lasts longer than a week, it may be time to make an appointment with an orthopedic provider.

Bone & Joint’s fellowship-trained, board-certified sports medicine specialists, and certified athletic trainers can evaluate your child’s discomfort and develop a plan to get your child back to his or her activity quickly and safely.

Call Bone & Joint from an appointment at 800-445-6442.

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